Theme: Thou Art All Beautiful O Mary. The Original Stain Is not in Thee
by Fr. Claude Perera, OMI

The Readings:

First Reading: Genesis 3:9-15,20
Judgment on Adam and Eve after Their Sin

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 98:1,2-3,3-4
Sing to the Lord for he has done wondrous deeds.

Second Reading: Ephesians 1:3-6,11-12
Chosen to Be Adopted Children of God in Christ

Gospel Reading:
Luke 1:26-38
The Annunciation to Mary of the Birth of Jesus by the Angel Gabriel

Background on the Gospel Reading

Today we celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the womb of Anne her Mother. God preserved Mary from the stain of original sin from that moment of her conception. Thereby, Mary became the first to be initiated to the grace of the redemption that her Son would merit for the whole human race.

I would restrict my reflection mainly to the first reading from the Book of Genesis. In the first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis a lot of symbolic language is used. In the first reading there are three powerful symbols, namely, the snake, nakedness, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Serpent (naúāš):

The serpent has been given different interpretations.

For some, the serpent is the emblem of occult knowledge related to magic and divination. But this was not a wide-spread belief. It was the beast of wisdom because of its shrewdness.

Hebrews had a natural aversion for the serpent because it was an object of worship in Canaan. It was a phallic symbol related to the mother goddess. The Assyrian goddess Asherah was the goddess of fertility. She had a serpent in her hand. Her symbol was the tree trunk (to which leaves were added sometimes). It was forbidden to have the symbol of Asherah erected in the sanctuaries of Yahweh (Dt 16:21; see Jdg 6:25, 28, 30; 2 Kg 23:6). Fertility cults symbolized by the serpent was a constant to Yahwism. Opting for a sexual interpretation of the serpent McKenzie says, “… [i]n human life, as it first proceeded from God, the fiery appetite of sex did not appear. Woman did not find her fulfillment in becoming a goddess of pleasure. It is a strong and noble rejection of the frightful over-emphasis upon sex and sexual pleasure which cursed the ancient world. For the only secure foundation of sexual and family morality is monogamy, the perpetual and exclusive union in marriage of one man and one woman until death do them part. … For the Hebrew, the unbridled sexual appetite was personalized in the deities of fertility, sanctified in the myth and ritual of fertility. We know that the Hebrews thought of this cultic myth as a perversion of sex and of the ideal of sex relations, of the position of woman, who becomes both a goddess of pleasure and a degraded being, and of divinity itself, which is identified with an animal function. Can we therefore, make the long leap to the conclusion that this idea is implicit in the third chapter of Genesis?”[1]

Although it may have been a symbol of Canaanite fertility cults with its promises of life the context of Gn 3 does not deal with a particular ethnic or religious group, but in general about the primeval wo/man. That is why the mythical figure of the speaking serpent is used (Soggin). It must also be remembered that for the Jahwist narrator serpent is only a secondary figure. The serpent stood for the fact that the impulse for the temptation stood outside wo/man. This means that wo/man is ultimately responsible for sin. In my opinion, some of these connotations of the serpent may have been present when the Jahwist narrator used the word serpent. God made the serpent which is a clever (arum) creature, and it led man to disobedience.[2] What the author of the temptation narrative wanted to say is that defection was an inevitable human phenomenon. Defection to other gods was a constant temptation of Israel. Human beings can easily be seduced. Defection is the conscious abandonment/desertion of allegiance/duty to a person/ cause/authority/ ethics and/or doctrine. The serpent is this innate human defection. This defection is always led by a craving for greater satisfaction [will] (// Early Buddhist notion of excessively selfish desire – taöhā which brings about sorrow, ennui, dissatisfaction and frustration in this imperfect, illusive and impermanent existence. Zimmerli says, “… the defection … remains something utterly inexplicable amidst all the good that God has created.”[3] However, it is important to note that it is not possible to come to terms with the origin of evil. It will remain a riddle to us.

The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

The serpent offers the woman something saying, “You would be like God knowing good and evil.” To be like God is the root of sin. Man wants no more to depend on God. Their sin was pride. Their sin had nothing to do with sex because by this time, they had no concupiscence.[4] What is the meaning of “knowledge of good and evil?” This is not a question of taking them separately as or good or evil, but as a single reality, e.g. binding and loosing = judicial sentence in general, coming and going or travel in general. Dt 1:39 speaks of children who do not know good and evil meaning is that they are innocent of sin. Thus, “the day you eat of it [= of the tree of knowledge of good and evil], you shall die” = “The day you sin, you shall die.”[5]

Good and evil means, knowledge that is useful and/or harmful to man. It is an overall expression or a merism signifying knowledge in a wider sense; namely, a correct judgment about what is good and bad. It stands for a wide range of moral as well as a-moral knowledge. Man is created with a strong drive for knowledge. This is the cause of his conflict with God. Although man’s life cycle is limited, his search for knowledge is unlimited. In his knowledge, man tried to experience what it is like to be like God, to know everything experientially and treaspassed or overstepped the boundaries of knowledge which God had set for him. All-embracing knowledge is not meant for man. This was the true meaning of the command not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This was the temptation to which the woman gave in. When man transgressed the command, he overstepped a boundary set for him by God.[6] Bratcher says, “[T]he man (Hebrew, ādām) was created from the ground (Hebrew ădāmāh). “Ground” and “dust” (2:7) serve to emphasize the fragility of humanity and the total dependence of the creature on the Creator. In this story, humanity possesses no inherent immortality, no spark of the divine that removes him from his earthy existence. The wo/man is simply given breath by God, something which s/he shares with animals.”[7] Yet, they failed to recognize their limits. This was the sin which they committed.  The woman transgressed the command by giving vent to her desire of being omniscient. The man simply gave assent. This is another aspect of sin, namely, complicity. Man avoided decision. Others (Eve) decided for him. He simply went with the current.

Nakedness as an Effect of Disobedience:  

According to Gn 2:25 the two of them were naked (arum”m), but the man and his wife and were not ashamed. Bratcher says, “The fact that they are unashamed indicates that they are comfortable with who they are; they accept themselves and each other. Their relationships are well ordered. They are in harmony with each other, with God, and with the world.”[8] But after the disobedience, the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves clothed themselves with them (Gn 3:7). The motif of nakedness is introduced here and plays an important role in the next chapter. In the Bible nakedness conveys different things. Shame fell on the faithless. This faithlessness can be towards God, i.e, idolaters (Ezek 7:18; Mic 7:10; Hos 10:6), or those who were unfriendly to God’s people. Shame fell on Moabites who ridiculed Israelites (Jer 48:39,27), and on Edomites because of their violence to  their brother Jacob (Ob 1:10). Also upon those who mock righteousness shame fell (Job 8:22; Ps 35:26; 132:18). It comes also on those who exalt themselves against God trusting in earthly and material power (2 Ch 32:21; Isa 30:3). Shame is not found only in the most desperate ones (Hos 4:18; Zeph 3:5; Phil 3:19; Jude 1:13). When confessed, God is said to remove shame (Is 54:4; 61:7).[9] In the context of Gn 3, the nakedness signifies either innocence or integrity, depending on how those terms are defined. There is no fear of exploitation, no sense of vulnerability. But after the entrance of sin into the world, nakedness takes on a negative sense. It is then usually connected with the sense of vulnerability, shame, exploitation, and exposure (such as the idea of “uncovering nakedness” either in sexual exploitation or in captivity in war). Wo/man feels vulnerable before each other and before other creatures. Creatures themselves begin to feel the same.

Today’s first reading ends with Gn 3:20 which says, “The man call his wife Eve because she was the mother of all the living.” Even in Hebrew is Þewwah meaning the ‘Mother of the Living.’ This expression is sarcastic. What the author of Gen is really saying is that she not really the mother of the living, but the mother of death. Led by desire, she brought death upon the universe. Eve’s antithesis is Mary, the true mother of all the living. In the Fourth Gospel, she is being presented to the Beloved Disciple as “Behold your mother” (Jn 19:27). Jesus presented the new Eve to the Church and will repair the damage done by the first mother Mary. Mary did so by her obedience as opposed to Eve who ruined God’s plan by her disobedience. In view her role as the new Mother of the Living, Mary was freed from all sin, original and all other forms. She is the ideal of human race. We cannot look at Mary in glory. But all the same, let us tie up our wagon to the star, the Star of the Sea (Stella Maris) and to the ever-bright Morning Star (Lux Ferre).

Tota Pulchra Es, Maria  Thou Art All Fair, O Mary
V. Tota pulchra es, Maria.
R. Tota pulchra es, Maria.
V. Thou art all fair, O Mary.
R. Thou art all fair, O Mary.
V. Et macula originalis non est in te.
R. Et macula originalis non est in te.
V. And the original stain is not in thee.
R. And the original stain is not in thee.
V. Tu gloria Ierusalem.
R. Tu laetitia Israel.
V. Thou art the glory of Jerusalem.
R. Thou, the joy of Israel.
V. Tu honorificentia populi nostri.
R. Tu advocata peccatorum.
V. Thou art the honor of our people.
R. Thou art the advocate of sinners.
V. O Maria.
R. O Maria.
V. O Mary.
R. O Mary.
V. Virgo prudentissima.
R. Mater clementissima.
V. Virgin most prudent.
R. Mother most tender.
V. Ora pro nobis.
R. Intercede pro nobis ad Dominum Iesum Christum.
V. Pray for us,
R. Intercede for us with Jesus Christ our Lord.
V. In conceptione tua, Immaculata fuisti.
R. Ora pro nobis Patrem cuius Filium peperisti.
V. In thy conception, Holy Virgin, thou wast immaculate.
R. Pray for us to the Father, Whose Son thou didst bring forth.
V. Domina, protege orationem meam.
R. Et clamor meus ad te veniat.
V. O Lady! aid my prayer,
R. And let my cry come unto thee.
OremusLet us pray
SANCTA Maria, regina caelorum, mater Domini nostri Iesu Christi, et mundi domina, quae nullum derelinquis, et nullum despicis: respice me, domina, clementer oculo pietatis, et impetra mihi apud tuum dilectum Filium cunctorum veniam peccatorum: ut qui nunc tuam sanctam et immaculatam conceptionem devoto affectu recolo, aeternae in futurum beatitudinis, bravium capiam, ipso, quem virgo peperisti, donante Domino nostro Iesu Christo: qui cum Patre et Sancto Spiritu vivit et regnat, in Trinitate perfecta, Deus, in saecula saeculorum. Amen.HOLY Mary, Queen of heaven, Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, and mistress of the world, who foresakest no one, and despisest no one, look upon me, O Lady! with an eye of pity, and entreat for me of thy beloved Son the forgiveness of all my sins; that, as I now celebrate, with devout affection, thy holy and immaculate conception, so, hereafter, I may receive the prize of eternal blessedness, by the grace of Him whom thou, in virginity, didst bring forth, Jesus Christ our Lord: Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth, in perfect Trinity, God, unto the ages of ages. Amen.

[1] John L. McKenzie, The Two-Edged Sword (Milwaukee: the Bruce Publishing House, 1956 ), 96, 98. Note that all fertility cults were not represented by the serpents. The cult of Baal which also had fertility rites was symbolized by a bull. According to the Baal cult, Baal god was born in spring, came of age in summer, aged in autumn and died in winter. The king who was the officiating priest at Baal cult had intercourse with a virgin. This represented conception of Baal which gave fertility to Mother Nature.   Cf.

[2] Westermann, Creation, 92.

[3] Walther Zimmli, A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, translated of the German Original Ezekiel by Ronald E. Clements; edited by Frank Moore Cross and Klaus Baltzer, with the assistance of Leonard Jay Greenspoon. (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979-83), 501-16 as quoted by Westermann, Creation, 92.

[4] Bruce Vawter, A Path through Genesis (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1956; 51963), 65f.

[5] Vawter, A Path through Genesis, 58.

[6] Westermann, Creation, 93.

[7] Westermann, Creation, 93

[8] Bratcher, ‘The “Fall” – A Second Look: A Literary Analysis of Genesis 2:4-3:24,’ 323.

[9] “Nakedness,” in ISBE in BibleWorks (henceforth, BW), 7.0.